Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a Cancer Symposium at MIT. Here I was, with some of the brightest names in cancer research: David Baltimore, Eric Lander, Dan Haber, Diane Mathis (OK, so technically she is an immunologist but I was just thrilled to hear her speak…) and sharing thoughts with my colleagues who were also in attendance. My colleagues and I had great discussions about what drives each and every one of us. What is it that makes us tick? What makes us wake up in the morning and go to work? What drives some people to excel to the point of becoming Nobel laureates? Clearly, for some it is scientific success: publications, name recognition, accolades. For others, the primary motivation is money, and some are just simply crazy about science and the acquisition of knowledge.
As I sat there through two days of talks about everything from basic biology to advanced engineering, I noticed something very peculiar. I was bored to tears with the first few presentations on detailed gene transcription, cell regulation and such. Of course, this is the kind of research that earns you a Nobel Laureate, right? On the other hand, I loved the talks on the manufacturing of nanoparticles, the development of new diagnostic tools using microfluidics, and the application of genomics to better understand cancer and develop better drugs. Mind you, I’m not an engineer nor would I dream of calling myself anything related to a “pharmacogenomics” person. Yet, what was striking was how excited I got every time I saw science being applied to find practical solutions.
If I were to describe myself as a scientist, I would use the term “Jack of all trades”. I trained as a cell immunologist and have some experience in pharmacology, immunogenicity and biobanking. Currently I work in oncology biomarkers and diagnostics. There are days when I worry that I’m not an expert in anything. I certainly will not win a Nobel Prize and I have hardly made a name for myself in science (just as I started making the biobanking conference speaker circuits, I left that project to do something else). Yet, as I sat in that auditorium talk after talk, I could only think of all the possibilities that come from integrating different fields to develop better solutions to take care of patients and how I enjoy being a part of that. In my current role, I’m utilizing my background as a cell biologist and integrating it with molecular biology and engineering to come up with better diagnostic tools. Will I become famous from this project? Probably not, but I am having a great time and I can’t wait to figure out what I’m going to do next.
So, what makes me tick, what gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that I will go to a place to spend the day learning new things and applying all that knowledge to develop better tools and better drugs to take care of patients, to take care of my and your loved ones. I may not win a Nobel Prize, I may not be famous, I certainly am no expert, and it is unlikely that I will become a rich CEO. But I have the best job in the world, a job where everything I learn is applied to make a better world.
What makes YOU tick?